Thought Leadership

Storytelling: the Next-Generation Family-Business Educational Tool

A blend of two inherently complicated types of organizations—families and businesses—family businesses tend to be very complex, particularly those with long histories. Because of that, passing on information and understanding about their history, vision and values, operations, structures, and practices to the next generation can present a challenge, according to Esther Choy, Adjunct Lecturer of Family Enterprise in the John L. Ward Center for Family Enterprises. The solution? One of the oldest methods known to humankind and one already being practiced by most families: storytelling.

“One of the best ways for us to learn is being able to distill ideas in the form of a story and let listeners take what they take from it while also absorbing major principles,” said Choy, who is also Leadership Story Lab President and Chief Story Facilitator. Leadership Story Lab teaches storytelling to institutional and individual clients and shares stories of family-business success in the Family IN Business podcast, which Choy executive produces for the Center. “In family business, oftentimes new or up-and-coming generations learn from their elders and do so through many stories. Certainly, there are family-company archives and a great deal of information that is accessible. But the essence of all of the things that have to do with existential questions and their lessons are embedded and best passed on via stories.” According to John L Ward Professor of Family Enterprise Jennifer Pendergast, “Families often share the “what” but not the “why.” We learn by understanding why choices were made and how they influenced the individuals involved.”

It is encouraging that family business leaders are telling stories, Choy noted. However, most come at the process organically rather than deliberately. So they don’t develop the necessary skills to pass on information through effective storytelling or focus on improving their skills.

“Storytelling is one of the stickiest and most effective ways of getting a complex set of ideas across,” Choy noted. “But recounting events is not telling stories. If I tell you I woke up, ate breakfast and started working, I didn’t tell you a story. I just told you how my morning unfolded.”

What constitutes a story? Choy uses the letters I.R.S. as a mnemonic for remembering the basics: an intriguing beginning, a riveting middle and a satisfying end.

Mastering the elements isn’t all that’s needed, however, as Choy discovered when she first began teaching these skills. Initially, she assumed that everyone understood what to do with the story mechanics she taught, but that was not the case.

“It’s a question of where to apply it,” Choy said. “Those who grasp it more quickly are those who already had a burning desire to learn it. They noticed that someone else tells a great story every time they open their mouth, and everyone listens, but when they try it themselves, they don’t get nearly as much attention. What aren’t they doing? What gives? Those people tend to really get in and absorb everything.”

The Family IN Business podcast, inspired and commissioned by the John L. Ward Center for Family Enterprises has already proven the power of storytelling for executives in its early episodes, Choy said. In fact, it’s unique in how it encourages them to open up where they otherwise might not have in the past.

“In the typical settings where you hear these leaders talk, the topics revolve around their expertise and opinions—they did x, which led to y,” she said. “That’s good. But the focus tends to be on their competence as leaders and their credentials or rank. The emphasis I place in interviews and, consequently, in the script development is character-led. What is it about a leader’s character that led them to that rank of leadership and their roster of accomplishment? In that scenario, it’s about where you place the engine, which is character, and the cart, which is the competence and credential.”

The focus and order of the narrative are fundamental to storytelling. As is the case with any business skill, mastering those fundamentals requires learning, insight and practice.

But when you get it right? Now you have quite the tale to tell.

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Esther Choy is the President and Chief Story Facilitator at Leadership Story Lab, where she teaches storytelling to institutional and individual clients who are searching for more meaningful ways to connect with their audiences. Leaders, in turn, use their stories to communicate authentically, inspire others and create lasting impact that they previously considered out of reach. Since 2010, Esther has combined the science of persuasion and the art of storytelling to help her clients gain a competitive edge.


Family Enterprise Boards

Family businesses are uniquely complex enterprises. This program empowers current and future directors of family-owned businesses to navigate the challenges posed by those organizations while learning to design, engage and lead boards that leverage their companies’ strategic advantages.

Upcoming Sessions

August 29 - September 22, 2022

Start: August 29 at 8:00 AM

End: September 22 at 12:00 PM

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Format: Blended

All times are in CT. Live virtual consist of half-day sessions.

Live Virtual Days
August 29 & 31

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September 19-22 on Evanston campus

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This Approval Program is limited to individuals with specific business experience. All applications will be subject to review and approval from the program’s Academic Director.

$11,750


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One of the most critical times in a family enterprise’s evolution is moving from the processes, people and structures that proved successful for a controlling owner to those that support a sibling partnership. Engage with faculty from the John L. Ward Center for Family Enterprises for leadership insights on governance architecture and effective decision making to support a vision that will guide multigenerational continuity.

Upcoming Sessions

TBD

Start: March 8 at 8:00 AM

End: March 24 at 12:30 PM



This Approval Program is limited to individuals with specific business experience. All applications will be subject to review and approval from the program’s Academic Director.

January 24 - February 17, 2022

Start: January 24 at 8:00 AM

End: February 17 at 1:15 PM

LOCATION:
Format: Blended

All times are in CT. Live virtual consist of half-day sessions. Download the Topic Overview for a preview.

Live Virtual Days
January 24, 26 & 28

In-Person Days
February 15-17 on Miami campus

This Approval Program is limited to individuals with specific business experience. All applications will be subject to review and approval from the program’s Academic Director.


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$8,150

Program Fee does not include accommodations.


Governing Family Enterprises

Join peers from leading family-run organizations to learn how family governance can help sustain business continuity, family unity and commitment. Come away equipped and energized to realize your vision for the future of your family enterprise with confidence.

Upcoming Sessions

February 7 - March 17, 2022

Start: February 7 at 8:00 AM

End: March 17 at 11:45 AM

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Live Virtual Days
February 7 & 9

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March 14-17 on Evanston campus

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$11,750

Fee includes lodging and most meals


Leading for Impact within Family Enterprise

As an aspiring leader within family enterprise, you’ll discover how to establish your credibility and authority in the business community, among family shareholders, with the board and management team. As an established leader, you’ll explore the complexities of mentoring the next generation and of managing succession and letting-go. For all, the program can enable you to better manage the nuanced paradoxes that are characteristic of family business leadership.


The Single Family Office

Challenging, often subtle family dynamics, sensitive communications and interlinked governance structures all contribute to the complexity of family offices. Guided by renowned faculty, you will learn to navigate complex family office dynamics to more fully align stakeholders. You will develop skills to plan strategy, promote trust and communication, and address challenging issues around governance and continuity.

Upcoming Sessions

October 26-28, 2021

Start: October 26 at 8:30 AM

End: October 28 at 3:00 PM

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Format: In-Person on Chicago campus

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$3,950

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